PANEL APPROVES SECOND CHANCE BILL FOR JUVENILE OFFENDERS
(AUSTIN) — Inmates serving long sentences for crimes they committed while juveniles would have an expedited path to parole under a bill passed by the Senate Criminal Justice Committee Tuesday. Brownsville Senator Eddie Lucio, Jr. told members that everyone has committed youthful indiscretions. "Each of use can recall a time during our younger years when we made a mistake," he said. "Years later they do not define us, they do not determine who we are as fully developed adults. The same is true of the many inmates in Texas prisons who are incarcerated for a crime they committed as a juvenile." Lucio is the Senate sponsor of HB 686, which would make an adult inmate who is serving time for an offense committed before the age of 17, eligible for parole in half the time as an adult offender. This population represents around one-percent of all those incarcerated in Texas.
Lucio says the bill wouldn't guarantee early release or parole for any offender, but would allow parole board members to consider these cases sooner and with consideration of the increased potential for rehabilitation these inmates possess. "The parole board is directed to consider that the applicant committed the offense while a juvenile and to make their decision based on understanding that such offenders have increased capacity for positive change." He added that this is not a way to circumvent the parole process. "They still must prove that they have been rehabilitated to the satisfaction of the parole board." The bill would also require that the inmate serve at least four years of his or her sentence before they become eligible for a parole hearing, and would exclude those convicted of serious crimes, including capital crimes. The bill would not apply retroactively.
This measure is a priority of committee chair and Houston Senator John Whitmire. "The merits of this bill speak for themselves," he said. Whitmire cited the case of Albert Yancy, who was convicted of murder when he was 17 and sentenced to life in prison. "Twenty-five years later he is a different person, he's a leader within the [Texas Department of Criminal Justice] for young offenders and he has been paroled about two years, and is a model citizen," said Whitmire. "We can document instances where folks given a second chance have actually come out and made a contribution to society." Yancy now works with TDCJ as a mentor for young offenders incarcerated in prison.
Also Tuesday, the Senate Business and Commerce Committee considered a bill that would require pet stores to be more transparent regarding the source, age and health of cats and dogs that they sell to consumers. HB 1818, sponsored by San Antonio Senator José Menéndez, is aimed at bad actors in the pet retail market who sell unhealthy animals to unsuspecting customers, resulting in large veterinary bills or even the death of the animal. It would require pet stores to sell cats and dogs that are either adopted from animal shelters or come from Texas- or federally-licensed cat and dog breeders. These breeders would have to comply with standards of care set by the state and have a record free of major violations for at least four years. Pet store owners would be required to prominently display which shelter or breeder supplied the animal. "I think it's important that families, who many times are looking to add a loved one to their family, that they get a pet that they know they can love for a long time," said Menéndez. The bill would only apply to counties with a population of 200,000 or more.
The Senate will reconvene Wednesday, May 19 at 11 a.m.